Ruth Wilson’s major new BBC drama will explore the horror of The Magdalene Laundries

Ruth Wilson’s major new BBC drama will explore the horror of The Magdalene Laundries

08/19/2022

Ruth Wilson is starring in a new BBC gothic thriller examining the legacy of one of Ireland’s most shocking scandals: The Magdalene Laundries. 

From her role as the eponymous protagonistin the BBC’s adaptation of Jane Eyre and her performance as Alice Morgan in Luther, to her captivating depiction of the villainous Mrs Coulter in HBO’s adaptation of His Dark Materials, Ruth Wilson truly is an actor that can take on any character and make it her own. We’ll happily watch anything on the basis that she’s part of the cast, because her TV projects simply never miss the mark.

Whether Wilson is starring in a period drama or a contemporary thriller, her talent for portraying morally ambiguous characters is always on the money. And her latest project looks to be no exception.

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Described as “a gothic detective story shot through with dark humour and elements of psychological horror”, the BBC’s upcoming gothic thriller The Woman In The Wall will examine the legacy of one of Ireland’s most shocking scandals – the inhumane institutions known as The Magdalene Laundries.

As per the BBC’s official plot synopsis, the new TV series will follow Lorna Brady (played by Wilson), a woman from the small, fictional town of Kilkinure who wakes one morning to find a corpse in her house. 

There’s no simple explanation for who the dead woman is or whether Lorna herself might be responsible for the apparent murder, because Lorna has a harrowing past.

BBC’s The Woman In The Wall: Ruth Wilson stars as Lorna Brady

“Lorna has long suffered from extreme bouts of sleepwalking, understood to have manifested around the time she was ripped from her life at the age of 15 and incarcerated in the Kilkinure Convent,” reads the synopsis.

“The convent was home to one of Ireland’s infamous Magdalene Laundries,” it continues, “a place where women were taken when they fell afoul of the social mores of their times.”

Women and girls were confined to a life of servitude in these notorious institutions for misdemeanours including getting pregnant out of wedlock, as a teenager or as a result of sexual abuse; committing adultery or engaging in prostitution; or failing to conform to societal standards. Tens of thousands of these “fallen women” passed through the laundries from the early 19th century until the middle of the 20th century and today, the Magdalene institutions are a deep source of shame in Ireland.

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As the synopsis makes clear, when the laundries did finally shut their doors (unbelievably, the last one closed in 1996), scores of survivors were left suffering in its wake. 

“Very few women were able to go on and lead relatively normal lives, and others, such as Lorna, were even less fortunate in their fate,” the synopsis continues. “One thing all survivors had in common is that none of them would ever forget.”

Lorna’s fortunes don’t improve when the “extremely ambitious, albeit elusive” Detective Colman Akande (played by Good Luck To You, Leo Grande’s Daryl McCormack) arrives on the scene to investigate a crime – but not one related to the dead woman she’s discovered in her house. Much like Lorna, Colman has secrets of his own…

“Colman quickly rose through the ranks of the Garda Síochána thanks to his natural aptitude for the job,” the synopsis adds. “He possesses a dark and sometimes scathing wit but there is a quiet sadness to him that even he doesn’t understand, and he’s hiding his own secrets from the world.”

BBC’s The Woman In The Wall: Daryl McCormack stars as Detective Colman Akande

Essentially, we’ve got two very complicated protagonists on our hands, each searching for the answers they so desperately need in a place that wants to bury their identity. 

Directed by Bafta nominee Harry Wootliff (True Things, Only You) and Rachna Suri (Half Bad), the sensitively crafted new drama will air on BBC One and iPlayer in the UK and on Showtime in the US.

Wilson will also executive produce the series alongside Bafta-nominated creator Joe Murtagh (Calm With Horses) and Harry Wootliff .

“My family is from Mayo, the county in which the fictional Kilkinure is set, and it deeply frustrates and saddens me that it feels so few people have heard of the Laundries that existed across Ireland,” said Murtagh of the project.

“I hope that by making something that has the familiarity of a genre piece we are able to shed some light on the awful things that occurred within these kind of institutions and introduce this history to the wider public, so that nothing like it may ever happen again.”

Ruth Wilson, meanwhile, added that “Lorna Brady is a complex and fascinating character.”

“In The Woman In The Wall, Joe has created both an enthralling gothic thriller and a moving examination of the legacy of The Magdalene Laundries. It’s a privilege to bring this story to screens.”

Images: Getty; BBC; HBO

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